Happy Holidays! And May I Suggest...

It’s that time of year again, when people are frantically shopping for the holidays and the black cloud of university final exams is hovering over select houses (ours being one of them!). For me personally, it’s not often that I can say the Christmas season is the most relaxed schedule I’ve had in a while, but it’s certainly true this year. With two book launches and a completed manuscript in my rear-view mirror, I’m finally getting the chance to concentrate on the Christmas season and to recharge a bit. Hallelujah! Being busy is great, but a person needs a little downtime every once in a while to avoid burnout.

So, dear reader, while you are working on your own shopping lists, may I suggest some great books for the mystery and thriller readers in your life?

For the mystery reader/geek/science-leaning/lover of a touch of romance—The Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries:

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  • DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT: The book that started it all. Massachusetts State Police Trooper Leigh Abbott joins forces with Boston University’s Dr. Matthew Lowell when skeletal murder victims are found buried on the Essex coast.
  • NO ONE SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL: Matt, Leigh, and the team reunite when the remains of a young woman are found carelessly tossed away in a garbage dump.
  • A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH: As Halloween looms and bodies are discovered following catastrophic arson fires, Matt and Leigh are drawn into Salem’s Witchcraft community to stop the killings.
  • TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER: The discovery of human remains in a Prohibition-era speakeasy starts Matt and Leigh’s investigation into a  series of connected murders spanning from the 1930s to present day.
  • LAMENT THE COMMON BONES: When a skeleton in a university research lab is found to be a murder victim, Matt brings the case to Leigh, setting off a deadly chase that could mean the end of the team… permanently.

For the thriller reader/dog lover—The FBI K-9s:

  • LONE WOLF: The first book in our newest series features FBI handler Meg Jennings and her search-and-rescue black Labrador, Hawk, as they track down a mad bomber with a grudge who is blowing up government buildings, killing innocent bystanders inside.
  • BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE: When victims resembling Meg are kidnapped and trapped in deadly scenarios, the team can only save them if they are able to decipher a cryptic coded message, solve the resulting puzzle, and rescue the victims before time runs out.

The FBI K-9s series continues next fall with STORM RISING!

No matter what holiday season you celebrate, best wishes to you to enjoy it with family and friends, and to find the time to recharge and rejuvenate as you look forward to the new year. See you in 2018!

The CreateSpace Experience

First of all, I’m happy to say that Ann and I completed the manuscript for FBI K-9s #3, STORM RISING, and passed it off to Esi Sogah, our editor at Kensington. We’re looking forward to working with her to fine tune the story in the new year.

Publishing LAMENT THE COMMON BONES was certainly a different experience for me. I’m the first one to admit that I like working with a publishing house rather than doing it myself. Maybe it’s because I have a full-time job on top of a busy writing schedule, but I really appreciate not having to worry about covers and formatting and distribution etc. Also, we’ve been lucky to have great publishing partners, so I wasn’t actively searching out another avenue to publishing. But we also had a manuscript that was crucial to the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries because it tied up a major multi-book arc, so, in the end, there wasn’t really any question about whether we’d put it out or not. Luckily, authors now have more options than ever if they want to self-publish.

We’d self-pubbed a novella before, but this was the first time I’d done a print version as well as an e-book. Because of my previous experience publishing NO ONE SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL through Kindle Direct Publishing and Kobo’s Writing Life, I knew the e-book would be no problem and could be done separately, but I looked to CreateSpace to put the print copy together and to ensure seamless delivery through Amazon worldwide.

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When LAMENT THE COMMON BONES was orphaned by Five Star’s decision to close down their mystery line, the book was already written and had gone through the developmental edit. But we knew it needed another set of eyes on it, so the amazing M.M. Harden graciously offered her services as our copy editor. She can adjust her edit based on what an author is looking for; I asked to be hit with both barrels, and definitely got it in the form of a comprehensive and critical edit. My theory has always been that you have to know the flaws in a book so you can fix them. Yes, it’s hard on your ego and you hate to see your baby bleeding, but the final completed version was so much improved, it was definitely worth it.

A huge thank you goes to my husband Rick for taking on the task of formatting the manuscript. Not difficult work, but fiddly and time consuming in the extreme, requiring a large amount of patience for whenever Word starts getting frisky and doing things on its own (or so it seems!). All those section breaks and text formatting, then adjustments around page numbers, and indent size, and page size, and so on. So many changes and slightly different versions of the manuscript. However, we learned a lot with this manuscript that will make subsequent attempts MUCH easier. I will say that CreateSpace’s ability to upload the document and then convert it into a virtual live version of the printed book was incredibly helpful to the fine-tuning process. Many versions, many uploads, but we worked through the kinks until we had the interior exactly as we wanted.

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The cover was a little trickier, but was not beyond my daughter Jess’s skills. She’s also the brains behind the cover for NO ONE SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL, but now has a lot more experience as a photographer and photo editor under her belt. She initially did the front cover for the e-book version, but then expanded that image into the full cover complete with spine, back cover copy, and previous reviews for Abbott and Lowell. It took a few kicks at the can to get the cover right (partly due to CreateSpace’s vague error emails about why the cover didn’t work during the review process). But this is another exercise that taught us a lot and we’ll definitely be more prepared next time.

Getting an ISBN for each of the three versions was a breeze as Collections Canada provides them free of charge to Canadian publishers, so that was lightning fast and saved purchasing separate numbers for each.

This pretty much put the print copy together, so we completed the setup and I ordered a hard copy proof to make sure there weren’t any errors (and yes, there were… I always catch errors in new formats because I look at the book differently). This was a step that cost a little and took some time to have the copy shipped, but was well worth both.

Rick reformatted the manuscript for the e-book versions and we got those up and ready for pre-order with a few weeks to go still. This process would have been a little simpler if I hadn’t been juggling the still work-in-process post-crit team manuscript for STORM RISING, but somehow it all managed to fit in. And on November 21st, LAMENT THE COMMON BONES went live. And I survived the self-publishing process! ;)

What’s next for Abbott and Lowell? I’m going to tackle the re-release of DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT, A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH, AND TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER in print. Five Star has stopped printing the hardcovers, and, honestly, I always thought those were too expensive for a debut author’s book, so I’m going to be putting together the trade paperback versions to match LAMENT THE COMMON BONES. So, watch for new covers to come in the new year with the book releases following shortly after. Rick and I are already well into the formatting of those manuscripts and I’ll be working with Jess over the next month or two to get new covers ready to go. More of that in the new year. Stay tuned!

Back Next Week!

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The fall has been absolutely insane. September held the release of BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE. October was Bouchercon and our fantastic crit team's return of all their copies of STORM RISING (FBI K-9s #3) which then required a full edit (as it always does). November has been crazy between getting LAMENT THE COMMON BONES ready for publication and working on the final edits of STORM which is due in three days. So I'm head down on the final couple of passes of STORM right now and I'll be back with a real post next week, no doubt feeling about two hundred pounds lighter with no deadline hanging over me (seriously... I may not know what to do with myself without one!).

See you next week!

LAMENT THE COMMON BONES Is Out!

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I'm happy to announce that the latest book in the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries is out today! Looking for a holiday gift idea for the mystery reader in your life? LAMENT THE COMMON BONES could be the book for you. And never fear that it's book #5 in the series - we had a number of early readers who were unfamiliar with the series, and they all said that it was extremely accessible to new readers (and they now need to go back and catch up on books 1 - 4!). So with Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and other holiday celebrations just around the corner, keep this book in mind as a gift idea for the readers in your life.

You'll find LAMENT THE COMMON BONES at the following fine outlets:
Trade paperback and Kindle e-book: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk
E-book for both Kobo and Nook e-readers: Indigo.ca and Kobo.com


When death hides in plain sight, only the most discerning eye can see the truth.

Forensic anthropologist Dr. Matt Lowell and his team of grad students don’t go looking for death—it usually comes to them. But when one of Matt’s students suspects the skeleton hanging in a top competitor’s lab is actually from a murder victim, Matt has no choice but to sneak in to confirm a suspicious death. Once the case comes to Massachusetts State Police Trooper Leigh Abbott, the team is back together again.

While trying to handle the new murder case, Matt and Leigh also uncover new evidence behind the mysterious deliveries intended to smear the name of Leigh’s father, an honored cop, fallen in the line of duty four years before. When the person behind the deliveries is finally uncovered, it becomes clear that lives are in jeopardy if they attempt to thwart him. At the same time, as the murder case delves into underground societies and grows complicated when the killer himself becomes a victim, it will take all of Matt and Leigh’s teamwork to solve both cases and escape with their lives.


Happy reading and gift giving!

A Sneak Peek at LAMENT THE COMMON BONES

We’re only a week away from the release of LAMENT THE COMMON BONES! So, as a special treat to our fabulous readers who have been waiting so long since TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER, Ann and I would like to give you a little sneak peek of our upcoming release. We really hit the ground running (and ducking bullets) in LAMENT THE COMMON BONES, so settle in for the explosive beginning of the book and then the start of the case that sets everything in motion:

When death hides in plain sight, only the most discerning eye can see the truth.

Forensic anthropologist Dr. Matt Lowell and his team of grad students don’t go looking for death—it usually comes to them. But when one of Matt’s students suspects the skeleton hanging in a top competitor’s lab is actually from a murder victim, Matt has no choice but to sneak in to confirm a suspicious death. Once the case comes to Massachusetts State Police Trooper Leigh Abbott, the team is back together again.

While trying to handle the new murder case, Matt and Leigh also uncover new evidence behind the mysterious deliveries intended to smear the name of Leigh’s father, an honored cop, fallen in the line of duty four years before. When the person behind the deliveries is finally uncovered, it becomes clear that lives are in jeopardy if they attempt to thwart him. At the same time, as the murder case delves into underground societies and grows complicated when the killer himself becomes a victim, it will take all of Matt and Leigh’s teamwork to solve both cases and escape with their lives.

Like instant gratification and want your copy waiting for you when you wake up on November 21st? For e-book readers, we have the following links ready for pre-order:

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077721M4V/

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/lament-the-common-bones

A New Method to Determine Time Since Death?

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There are two significant challenges in any criminal investigation involving badly decomposed or skeletonized remains: who is the victim and when did he or she die?

In the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries, we’ve dealt with the time since death, or post mortem interval (PMI), issue a few times. In the very first book in the series, DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT, Trooper Leigh Abbott and Dr. Matt Lowell nearly come to blows when Leigh needs a time since death estimate so she can start looking at missing persons reports, and Matt, a quintessential scientist, refuses to guess when he’s lacking sufficient data. In TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER, when a skeleton is found immured behind a brick wall, it is Dr. Edward Rowe and his knowledge of history that dates the skeleton. But in LAMENT THE COMMON BONES (out two weeks today!), when a murder victim is found hanging in a forensic anthropology lab, it’s impossible for Matt to estimate the PMI because he’s missing the usual markers—tissue decomposition or bone weathering. The best he can do is to provide a minimum PMI based on the time required to prepare the bones. The maximum can be determined by the last time the victim was seen alive, but that only provides at best a detrimentally large window for a murder investigation. However, a small side storyline involves Dr. Trevor Sharpe, Matt’s scientific arch nemesis, and why Matt hates him so much. In the end, it all has to do with PMI estimates and the extent some researchers will go to in their search for scientific glory.

In the real world, a lack of understanding of PMI started the criminal investigative aspect of forensic anthropology as we currently know it when Dr. Bill Bass misjudged the age of a corpse by over a century (see the fascinating story of Colonel William Shy). As a result, he started the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Research Facility (nicknamed the ‘Body Farm’) in 1981. Since then, research into decomposition in different locations and during different seasons, scavenging, the affect of trauma, entomology, and many, many other aspects of the process of death have elucidated scientific details that have greatly improved criminal investigations.

However, definitive estimates of PMI continue to elude scientists in certain cases, especially those involving skeletonized remains. Without definitive tissue markers, or obvious weathering clues, some estimates around PMI can span months or even years, greatly complicating any criminal investigation. Enter Lincoln Memorial University, Dr. Beatrix Dudzik, and her new project to study bone marrow, the protected inner contents of bones that produce both red and white blood cells. They hope to use the decomposition of lipids within the bone marrow to estimate the time elapsed since death. They are basing their research on a study by Paul Wood and Natalie Shirley where PMI was reliably determined based on skeletal muscle decomposition and the biochemical breakdown products produced up to a year after death. Knowing the difficulties involved in skeletal remains, Dudzik would like to translate a similar breakdown process to bone marrow.

The study will take place at the Body Farm, using twenty donor cadavers over a two-year time period, as well as samples already in the Body Farm’s bone collection with known PMI’s from one to thirty years. The study, which will start in January 2018, will study three types of bones specifically—the calcaneus from the ankle, the tibia from the lower leg, and a vertebrae—as well as teeth to test for lipid breakdown products.

The group hopes that the initial two-year study will produce data allowing for an extension and additional research to better understand this complicated process.


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LAMENT THE COMMON BONES releases two weeks from today and we’ve got a couple of buy links already up for readers who like instant gratification and want their copy waiting for them when they wake up on November 21st. So for e-book readers, we have the following links:

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077721M4V/

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/lament-the-common-bones

Newsletter readers are getting an advanced sneak peek at the first three chapters of the book today, but come back to the blog next week for a chance to see the exciting opening chapters early!

Forensic Case Files: The Exhumation of H.H. Holmes

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We’re ramping up toward the release of Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries #5, LAMENT THE COMMON BONES, so I thought it would be fun to do a forensic anthropology story this week. There was a big story last month that I didn’t review because we were busy with the launch of BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE, but it’s worth covering—the exhumation and the analysis of the body buried in the grave belonging to H.H. Holmes.

For anyone unfamiliar with Dr. Henry Howard (H.H) Holmes, he was a serial killer and con artist who operated against the backdrop of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Holmes, an alias of Herman Webster Mudgett, was born in New Hampshire in 1861, graduated from the University of Michigan’s Department of Medicine and Surgery in 1884, and was a bigamist, at one point being married to three women simultaneously while being engaged to several others.

Holmes settled in Chicago in 1886 and purchased a drug store on a busy intersection in the Englewood neighbourhood. He purchased a lot on the opposite corner from the drug store, designed, and then started construction of a multi-use, three-story building—a drug store on the ground floor with apartments and hotel rooms above that he claimed were part of the World’s Fair Hotel (though there is no evidence they were ever used for this purpose, or even fully completed). His own rooms were located on the third floor.

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The upper floors of the building were a nightmarish design of soundproofed rooms, labyrinthine corridors, doors that locked only from the outside, air-tight spaces with installed gas vents, and chutes that transported room occupants to the basement for incineration or to be dissolved in vats of acid. Holmes was ingenious in his methods, even ensuring that no single builder understood the depravity of the building’s design—he would fire workers after short contacts, ensuring that no one ever fully understood the full horror of his plans.

Following the discovery of the building’s real purpose, it was christened ‘The Murder Castle’—a place where people went in, but never came out. Holmes himself admitted to killing twenty-seven individuals, though only nine deaths were confirmed. However, his legend has grown, and some accounts report over two hundred deaths at his hands. What is certain is that several of his paramours/fiancées lost their lives inside the Castle, as well as a number of women who responded to advertisements for employment.

Apart from the lives lost in 1893 during the World’s Fair, it was actually the death of a fellow con artist that finally convicted Holmes. The pair concocted a scheme to fake the death of an inventor in a laboratory explosion and fire. Benjamin Pitezel set up the fake persona and purchased a $10,000 insurance policy. Holmes was supposed to produce a body to be disfigured during the fire, but, instead, he killed Pitezel so he could make the insurance claim without having to split it with a partner. Holmes was eventually caught, tried for Pitezel’s murder, and sentenced to death. He was hanged in 1896.

Earlier this year, a request was made by the Mudgett family to exhume Holmes’s grave to ensure he was buried there. Family legend told that despite Holmes’s request to be buried in a coffin filled with cement and then interred under seven three-thousand-pound barrels of cement to deter grave robbers and infamy seekers, he had escaped execution. The exhumation order was granted and the body was recovered last spring.

Samantha Cox, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania, completed the examination. Due to the method of burial within cement, the body had not fully decomposed. The man’s burial clothes were intact and he still sported a mustache, but the tissues were mostly putrefied but not fully liquefied. Due to the extent of decomposition, DNA could not be extracted from the remaining tissue slurry, but was instead extracted from tooth pulp for PCR and familial DNA profiling. Last month, the results were revealed: the body in the grave of H.H. Holmes was indeed Holmes himself. Despite his wily ways and life of crime, in the end, he was caught and punished. Holmes body was returned to his grave and buried once again.

As a side note, anyone who is interested in more on the life of H.H. Holmes would enjoy the narrative non-fiction novel ‘The Devil in the White City’ by Erik Larson. It’s a well-researched, fascinating account of both the 1893 World’s Fair ‘Columbian Exposition’ and the simultaneous, horrific career of H.H. Holmes.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Back From Bouchercon

Sorry about the radio silence last week. I was just back from Bouchercon, was up to my eyeballs in getting LAMENT THE COMMON BONES ready for our early readers, and three out of four of our cats were freshly vaccinated and not all were doing well. But I’m back on track and ready for an update on the past few weeks.

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Bouchercon: Bouchercon 2017 was a great success. Louise Penny was, as always, a standout Guest of Honour. As popular and well-known as she is, she’s still gracious, funny, and down-to-earth. She talked about the loss of her beloved husband Michael with honesty and love, had insightful stories about her early days of writing and what she’s learned over the years, and had endless time for fans at all of her signings (each one that went on for hours at a time). The conference was in a great location, was well organized, and had something for everyone from fans, to beginning writers, to battle-scarred veterans.

Personally, I had a great time. My panel on the Critters of Crime was a blast, and a special thank you goes to moderator Michael Kurland, and fellow panelists Margaret Mizushima, Janet Finsilver, Eileen F. Watkins, and Kelly Oliver. It was great to get together with fellow Crime Writers of Canada authors, who were extremely well represented. Kensington also had a significant presence and we had an extremely popular author signing. It was a pleasure meeting so many authors I’d only interacted with on-line, as well as new readers. The Kensington authors even had a fun outing to the Penguin Random House head office in Toronto for a lovely wine and cheese open house. I came home from the conference pretty tired, but very satisfied with my time away.

LAMENT THE COMMON BONES: Back home again, my husband Rick and I continued to work on getting LAMENT ready to go out to early readers. Rick has put an immense amount of time into all the persnickety formatting that is required for CreateSpace as well as for .mobi and .epub file production. Thanks also to my daughter, Jess, the artistic mind and the skills behind putting the full cover together while dealing with CreateSpace’s finicky requirements and tackling the project every time we were slightly off target. I’m happy to say that the print copy is now ready to go. A proof copy is ordered and once I’ve reviewed that, it’s ready to print and ship. Early readers and bloggers now have their advance copies and we’re looking forward to early reviews in the coming weeks. We’ll also have buy links coming in the next few weeks.

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Newsletter: A new book coming out means that new editions of the newsletter will be coming out shortly. Want a sneak peak at the hit-the-ground running opening chapters that an early reader got sucked into today when she needed to get out and get things done (sorry, D!)? Then sign up for the newsletter at the bottom of the home page here at Skeleton Keys.

FBI K-9s #3, STORM RISING: Our fantastic crit team has returned their copies of STORM RISING, so we’re back at work on the final finishing touches before the manuscript is due to our editor at the end of next month. They made some really great suggestions, and, fortunately, have no major plot issues, so we’re in good shape with time to spare to make sure the manuscript is squeaky clean before we hand it in.

And just a reminder that Halloween is coming and when it comes to book or treat, we vote book! And may we suggest BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE as your book of choice? We continue to hold a 4.53 average on Goodreads and readers are loving it!

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A Cover Reveal and Some Publishing News

We’ve got some great news about the fifth book in the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries: it will release on Tuesday, November 21st. That’s only six weeks away!

Why such short notice? Well, publishing is a business and LAMENT THE COMMON BONES got caught in the crossfire of a difficult business decision. Five Star published DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT, A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH, and TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER (we self-published the novella, NO ONE SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL). My editor read LAMENT THE COMMON BONES and loved it, saying it was our best Abbott and Lowell yet. The contract was even discussed. But then the publishing house made the decision to close down the entire mystery line and go forward only with westerns. That orphaned our book and the series. Hats off to our agent, Nicole Resciniti, who worked tirelessly to try to move the series to another pub house, but, realistically, selling the fifth book in a series when another house still has the rights to all the other full-length novels simply wasn’t possible. Once we knew that we had exhausted all our traditional options, we made the decision to self-publish. And since it was just our schedule that was the deciding factor around timing, we slotted it in after the launch of BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE and just before the manuscript of STORM RISING is due to our Kensington editor on December 1st. Thus, November 21st. We also felt our readers had waited more than long enough for this series installment, so sooner was definitely preferable to later.

But a new book means that all-exciting moment when we get to release a sparkly new cover! Many, many thanks to the very talented Jess Danna for creating this cover for us. We love it and hope you will too! And now without further ado…

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It’s been a while since we’ve spent some time with Matt and Leigh, so where were we?  When we last left them, they’d solved a series of murders in Boston dating all the way back to prohibition, and had just reunited an unjustly separated family. Their off-the-books investigation into the mysterious packages implicating Leigh’s murdered father in nefarious dealings had revealed a frightening possibility, causing Leigh to believe that she was in danger. And then a new investigation is discovered literally standing in the corner of a rival’s forensic anthropology lab…

 

When death hides in plain sight, only the most discerning eye can see the truth.

Forensic anthropologist Dr. Matt Lowell and his team of grad students don’t go looking for death—it usually comes to them. But when one of Matt’s students suspects the skeleton hanging in a top competitor’s lab is actually from a murder victim, Matt has no choice but to sneak in to confirm a suspicious death. Once the case comes to Massachusetts State Police Trooper Leigh Abbott, the team is back together again.

While trying to handle the new murder case, Matt and Leigh also uncover new evidence behind the mysterious deliveries intended to smear the name of Leigh’s father, an honored cop, fallen in the line of duty four years before. When the person behind the deliveries is finally uncovered, it becomes clear that lives are in jeopardy if they attempt to thwart him. At the same time, as the murder case delves into underground societies and grows complicated when the killer himself becomes a victim, it will take all of Matt and Leigh’s teamwork to solve both cases and escape with their lives.

 

LAMENT THE COMMON BONES, out in trade paperback and e-book on November 21st! Buy links coming soon!

The Launch of BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE

I was happy to celebrate the launch of BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE this past weekend with family and friends. It was a lovely, intimate gathering at our wonderful downtown indie bookshop, A Different Drummer. We've had some big, raucous launches before, but this one had more of the air of a dinner party where people lingered chatting and eating long after the reading. It was a really nice affair, and it gave me the chance to really spend time with people which was enjoyable and relaxing. Many thanks to all who attended!

Gathering and loading up plates:

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The wonderful Ian Elliott kicking us off for a speech and a reading:

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Food for the humans:

Food to take home to the dogs:

A gift basket to win, and our other series was nicely highlighted as well:

Meeting new friends and hanging out with old friends:

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Signing books!

Many thanks for my older daughter, Jess Danna, for once again lending me her considerable photographic skills, and my younger daughter Jordan, for being my right hand and spending hours in the kitchen with me!

BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE Is Out!

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Whoo hoo! It’s publication day!! Ann and I are happy to announce that BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE is now available. It’s been getting some great early buzz on Goodreads, and one of the comments we’ve noticed most is early readers saying that you don’t need to have read LONE WOLF to follow along. This is really great to hear because we really tried to write this second series installment as much as a standalone as possible because you never know where a reader’s entry point will be. In fact, I’ve seen many comments from people who intended to go back and read LONE WOLF based on the strength of BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.

BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE is available in hardcover and e-book (with the audio version coming in November) from these fine sellers: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, Chapters/Indigo, B&N, BAM, IndieBound, Target, Walmart, Hudson Booksellers.

Happy reading!

In this powerful K-9 crime thriller, FBI Special Agent Meg Jennings and her trusted search-and-rescue Labrador, Hawk, must race against the clock before a diabolical killer strikes again…
 
Somewhere in the Washington, D.C., area, a woman lies helpless in a box. Beneath the earth. Barely breathing. Buried alive. In Quantico, the FBI receives a coded message from the woman’s abductor. He wants to play a game with them: decipher the clues, find the grave, save the girl. The FBI’s top cryptanalysts crack the code, and Special Agent Meg Jennings and her K-9 partner, Hawk, scramble to follow a trail of false leads to the scene of the crime. By the time they solve the puzzle, it’s too late. But the killer’s game is far from over . . .
 
Soon another message arrives. Another victim is taken, and the deadly pattern is repeated—again and again. Each kidnapping triggers another desperate race against time, each with the possibility of another senseless death. That’s when Meg decides to try something drastic. Break the Bureau’s protocol. Bring in her brilliant sister, Cara, a genius at word games, to decipher the kidnapper’s twisted clues. Meg knows she’s risking her career to do it, but she’s determined not to let one more person die under her and Hawk’s watch. If the plan fails, it could bite them in the end. And if it leads to the killer, it could bury them forever . . .

One Week to the Release of BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE!

We’re only a week away from the release of BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE, the second book in the FBI K-9s and things are getting excited chez Sara Driscoll.

So what’s going on? Yesterday, I was featured on Alli Sinclair’s blog highlighting the story behind the FBI K-9s series. Next Monday, September 25th, the day before the release, LONE WOLF is going to be the Kindle Daily Deal on Amazon, so it will be a great opportunity to try out the book that started the series for a cheap and cheerful deal price the day before the second book comes out. It’s the big launch on Tuesday, September 26th, then I’ll be on Joan Reeves’s Slingwords blog on the 27th, and finally I’ll be throwing a big launch party here in Burlington, Ontario on Saturday, September 30th (details at the end of this post). Whew! Going to be a busy few weeks!

So, in anticipation of the launch of BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE, I have a special treat: the first chapter of the book so you can dive in for a taste of what’s to come next week. We toss you right into the thick of things as the first victim reported to the team goes missing and it’s a mad chase to save her life. Do they succeed? Let’s find out

Stay tuned for more on September 26th!


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It’s time for a party! If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area, please join me for the launch of BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!

Odds and Ends

Things have been pretty busy around here in the last few weeks. We’re not only getting ready to release the newest FBI K-9s novel, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE, in two weeks, but Ann and I have been putting the finishing touches on the third book in the series, STORM RISING, which went out to our critique team yesterday.

Working on STORM RISING has been somewhat bittersweet lately. Earlier this year, when we planned the book to start with a brutal hurricane making landfall on the eastern seaboard, we never suspected we’d have two such hurricanes devastating parts of the United States while we were working on it. The research for STORM RISING was very heavily based on Hurricane Sandy, but both Harvey and Irma have confirmed everything we already knew in the worst possible ways. I’ve been watching the search-and-rescue K-9 teams sent in to Texas, Florida, and Caribbean islands, knowing how crucially important they are to the search efforts and recovering the missing. Our critique team is digging into STORM RISING now, but our readers will see it in the fall of 2018.

I’m running a few Goodreads giveaways in the next few weeks, with the first starting yesterday. Are you a Goodreads member and would like to get your hands on a free, advanced copy of BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE? Then enter using the widget below.

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Before It's Too Late by Sara Driscoll

Before It's Too Late

by Sara Driscoll

Giveaway ends September 18, 2017.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Do you want to get a sneak peak at BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE? I’m sending out a newsletter this week with an exclusive early look, so if you’re interested, sign up at the bottom on my home page.

And, finally, I’m having a book launch! If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario, and would like to have an author signed copy, please join me on September 30th at A Different Drummer. Hope to see you there!

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The Search Dogs of Hurricane Harvey

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The headlines and videos of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey are horrific. Historic flooding displaced over 30,000 residents, damaged or destroyed an estimated 200,000 homes, and has caused up to approximately $180 billion dollars in damage.

On the short term, attention has rightly been focused on the 17,000 rescues that have taken place. When local law enforcement was unable to keep up with the calls for help, the public responded. Regular people, intent on simply saving lives, came from as far away as Florida bringing their own boats to put into the flood waters. People laid their lives on the line to save strangers and their pets. It’s been uplifting to watch these rescues and is a wonderful reminder that even during times of political chaos when every news story seems dark and foreboding, the human spirit continues to successfully rise to the challenge.

As in any natural disaster in modern times, search-and-rescue dogs have responded to Hurricane Harvey and will continue to do so over the coming weeks. The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) had ten teams dispatched to their San Antonia base of operations or on their way the day the hurricane made landfall. Within days, another four teams were activated, bringing the total number to fourteen, with teams responding from California, Nebraska, Texas, and Utah. As the water receded, the teams moved in, looking for anyone trapped who had been missed by rescuers in the initial rescues. It's incredibly hard work for the teams, but there is no question that lives have been and will be saved because of their presence on the ground.

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A heartwarming story about one of the SDF search-and-rescue K-9s has recently come to light out of Harvey's news cycle. Rocket, a border collie, was nearly euthanized at a shelter for being too high energy. But an SDF canine recruitment volunteer recognized something special in Rocky. He wasn’t right for search-and-rescue, but he might make a good agility dog, so she and her husband, an SDF handler himself, adopted Rocket. Within a year, however, Rocket was showing signs of being an ace search-and-rescue dog, so the SDF took him on and partnered him with Windsor Fire Engineer Mike Stornetta. Now the dog that nearly died because of his energy and drive is now using those same characteristics to save lives in Texas. Mike and Rocket were deployed to Wharton, Texas, and have been doing grid searches of flooded houses in conjunction with other task forces. Sometimes, an intuitive eye is what it takes to change and save lives, and Rocket is a prime example of this. We wish Mike, Rocket, and the other teams on the ground in Texas the very best of luck.

Photo credit: National Disaster Search Dog Foundation


I have a newsletter! Interested in getting a sneak peek at the first few chapters of BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE before it launches later this month? Then just sign up at the bottom of the home page here on my website and you’ll be added to the list! More fun stuff coming in the newsletter such as cover reveals for the third book in the FBI K-9s series and Abbott and Lowell book #5, LAMENT THE COMMON BONES, as well as more sneak peeks, and early publishing news. Don’t miss out!

Teaming Dogs and Drones to Find the Missing

Before we start into today’s blog post, I just wanted to let you all know that LONE WOLF, the first book in the FBI K-9s series, is out today in mass market paperback. Prefer to read print and were curious about the series, but thought the hardcover was too pricy to try? This is your chance to jump into the series for a cheap and cheerful price. You can find it at local booksellers as well as Amazon.com, Amazon.ca , Amazon.co.uk, and Chapters.Indigo.ca. It’s a great time to jump into the series as BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE will be released in just four weeks!


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A recent news story caught my attention for numerous reasons. Not only did it involve a real-life search-and-rescue dog team, but it also involved drones. For those of you who have read LONE WOLF, you know we used drones as a method to deliver chaos and anarchy in the form of high-energy explosives, leading to death and destruction. But this story is quite different.

The Swiss Association of Rescue Dogs (REDOG) was officially founded in 1971, but the use of mountain rescue dogs in Switzerland has been going on for centuries for avalanche rescues and to find missing climbers. Now one of the foremost rescue groups in the world, REDOG currently has 650 members and 500 active rescue dog teams, and is known for both it’s wilderness and urban disaster training. They deploy both nationally—where approximately 3,000 people go missing each year—and internationally, responding to natural disaster and missing person calls.

Recently REDOG has teamed up with the Swiss Federation of Civil Drones and this combination uses the best skills of each group to facilitate searches. Drones—often pilot-controlled octocopters which can cover distances up to five kilometers at 100km/hour—are used to search mountainous terrain which would be unsafe for both the dog and handler, as well as being able to cover open spaces encompassing large areas with high definition visuals that are then reviewed by a search specialist. If a victim is found, rescuers are sent in to that specific location. If evidence of a victim is found, search-and-rescue dog teams can be dispatched for a more localized search.  

The benefits of the two groups working together is clear. Combined searches are more efficient and save time and resources overall, significantly cutting down average rescue times.

In a turnaround from how drones were used in LONE WOLF, they are again used in our now drafted manuscript for the third book in the series. The book starts as we drop Meg and Hawk into a post-hurricane search-and-rescue mission, and it’s a shock for Meg to hear drones in the air when she’s been conditioned to recognize them as deadly. But in this case, as we are sadly seeing right now in Texas, drones can safely fly over flooded areas and can send back specific images to help pinpoint searches, potentially saving lives when time is of the essence.

Photo Credit: REDOG

Canine Descendance from Wolves

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It’s been long recognized that the domesticated dog—known to many as man’s best friend—evolved from the wild wolf, but scientists are not clear as to when this might have occurred, and how many times. In a post last fall, we looked at the domestication of wild dogs approximately 15,000 years ago. But when did the ancestors of dogs evolve into the species we now know as Canis familiaris?

There are two main schools of thought. One theory, published last year in the journal Science, looked at the partial genetic profiles of 59 dogs from 3,000 to 14,000 years old, as well as the complete profile of an Irish dog from 4,800 years ago, and compared these sequences to hundreds of modern dogs. This data suggested that domesticated dogs actually arose twice in completely separate events, once in Asia and once in Europe.

However, a recent study published in Nature Communications suggests an alternate theory. This group studied two ancient German dogs, one 5,000 years old, and the other 7,000 years old. They combined these genetic sequences with those of the Irish dog used in the Science study, and compared them to the genetic makeup of 5,649 modern dogs and wolves. Based on the high degree of similarity between ancient and modern genetic signatures, their results conclude that dogs were domesticated from a now-extinct wolf population approximately 40,000 years ago, which then split into the European and Asian populations approximately 20,000 years ago.

Some interesting additional details came out of this study. While wolves are carnivores, dogs developed the ability to digest starches, making them more omnivorous than their ancestors. Living with agriculture-based human populations, this was a huge advantage, and this ability appears to have evolved at roughly the same time as it did for humans. Also interesting, unlike their 5,000 and 7,000 year-old ancestors, modern dogs have developed duplicate genes, allowing them more genetic flexibility.

So which of these two theories of canine domestication is correct? The researchers agree that the more recent study doesn’t preclude the possibility of a second domestication event; they simply don’t see evidence of such an event in their samples. Critics of this research point out that it doesn’t explain the huge divide between European and Asian subspecies, nor does it explain that while Europe and Asia were highly populated with dogs, the areas between were notably empty. Future research is planned to look at more ancient Asian dogs, more recent European samples—such as those from the time of the Roman Empire—and also American samples in a bid to narrow down the ‘where’ of domestication as well as the ‘when’.

Photo credit: Arne von Brill

Report From the Writing Trenches, August 2017

I’m really back! Not that last week wasn’t a real post, but now I’m really and truly back into blogging. And since it’s been a while since a real update, I’d like to catch everyone up. So what’s been going on with me in the last two and a half months and what’s coming up?

FBI K-9s #3—This has been 95% of my summer so far. I’d gotten the writing started in May, but my mother had a bad accident and the month of May involved a lot of time at the hospital. Once she was out at the end of May, that was my chance to really dive into this latest novel. As usual, I set personal daily/weekly word counts and tried really hard to stick to it. The original goal was to do 9,000 words per week (1,000 for each work day, 2,000 for each weekend day plus past chapter editing) and to have it all done by the end of July in about 9 weeks. I came super close, only missing that goal by a week. Though, to be fair, the first draft ended up being longer than I’d set as the goal, so maybe it all comes out in the wash after all. I’m happy to announce that I completed the first draft last Monday. Ann had a crazy 3 or 4 weeks, trying to stay up to date with my writing all while packing her house and moving her 5 dogs and herself from Texas to North Carolina, but once she arrived, she jumped right back into the 8 or so chapters she was behind. By the time I’d finished the last 3 chapters, she was back in time with me. Now we’re doing side-by-side first round edits. This round is the most important because this pass is about story and both of us tackling it separately is crucial. This way we can independently look at the story we outlined together and see if something isn’t working, and, if so, come up with suggested ways to tackle it. After that, I estimate 2 more rounds for writing/language/word choice and then for cleanup. Our critique team is expecting the manuscript in early September and then they’ll have their chance to tear it apart. This is the 8th book with us for most of them, so they are good at this, let me assure you. They pull no punches and that’s exactly what we and the book need.

LONE WOLF in mass market format—LONE WOLF, book #1 in the FBI K-9s, is coming out in mass market paperback format on August 29th, so we’re back into new marketing of that book with Kensington, who, as usual, is doing a great job! This copy of the book will also include a sneak peak at #2 in the series, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.

BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE in hardcover format—The second book in the FBI K-9s series will launch on September 26th. I’m really looking forward to this one as this book is a particular favourite of mine. More mystery than LONE WOLF, this story continues to examine the bond between Meg and her black Lab Hawk, as well as exploring her relationships with her sister Cara, Washington Post reporter Clay McCord, and DCFEM firefighter/paramedic Lt. Todd Webb, all against a backdrop of a serial killer who is kidnapping and killing women to get Meg’s attention in a sick game.

To remind you of where we are in the series at this point, this is the back cover copy of the book:

In this powerful K-9 crime thriller, FBI Special Agent Meg Jennings and her trusted search-and-rescue Labrador, Hawk, must race against the clock before a diabolical killer strikes again…

Somewhere in the Washington, D.C., area, a woman lies helpless in a box. Beneath the earth. Barely breathing. Buried alive. In Quantico, the FBI receives a coded message from the woman’s abductor. He wants to play a game with them: decipher the clues, find the grave, save the girl. The FBI’s top cryptanalysts crack the code, and Special Agent Meg Jennings and her K-9 partner, Hawk, scramble to follow a trail of false leads to the scene of the crime. By the time they solve the puzzle, it’s too late. But the killer’s game is far from over…

Soon another message arrives. Another victim is taken, and the deadly pattern is repeated—again and again. Each kidnapping triggers another desperate race against time, each with the possibility of another senseless death. That’s when Meg decides to try something drastic. Break the Bureau’s protocol. Bring in her brilliant sister, Cara, a genius at word games, to decipher the kidnapper’s twisted clues. Meg knows she’s risking her career to do it, but she’s determined not to let one more person die under her and Hawk’s watch. If the plan fails, it could bite them in the end. And if it leads to the killer, it could bury them forever…

Our street team, early readers and a number of bloggers already have their copies, and we’re starting to see some great early buzz starting. This is the fun part. After all the hard work, now is the time where we get to share our creation and hear readers’ thoughts on all that sweat and hairpulling. ;)

Launch of BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE—Once again, I will be hosted by Ian Elliot of A Different Drummer Books here in Burlington on September 30th for the launch party. If you are local to the area, please stop by because I’d love to see you and sign your copy of the new book!

Word on the Street Toronto—This event isn’t definite, but I’ve applied to take part in it and hopefully will be chosen as part of the panel of Crime Writers of Canada authors attending. WOTS is a free event taking place in Halifax, Lethbridge, Toronto and Saskatoon to celebrate reading and to advocate literacy. I’ve taken part in it twice before in 2014 and 2015 and this year it will once again be at Harbourfront Center, right on the lake in Toronto. Taking place on Sunday, September 24, 2017, the event runs from 11:00 am - 6:00 pm and is great fun for readers of all ages and genres.

Bouchercon 2017: Passport to Murder—Bouchercon is the biggest North American fan mystery conference and, conveniently, this year it’s in Toronto! I previously attended Bouchercon in 2013 in Albany and was fortunate enough to be on their forensics panel. This year I will be appearing in several events. Right at the beginning of the conference, I will be involved in Author Speed Dating on Thursday, October 12 from 8 – 10am. Speed dating is exactly what it sounds like, except in this case, you’re not looking for an actual date. Instead, you sit for 2 minutes at 22 tables of 8 new and interested readers to tell them about your series. Should be great, chaotic fun, but I suspect I’ll need a nap afterwards. And then I’m thrilled to be part of a panel on Saturday, October 14 from 10 – 11am in the Sheraton B room. The panel is entitled ‘The Critters of Crime: K-9s, cats and cows, and their role in mysteries’ followed by a half hour signing in the book/deal room (Osgoode Room). Joining me are fabulous authors Margaret Mizushima, Eileen F. Watkins, Kelly Oliver, and Janet Finsilver, so it should be a super panel. I’m looking forward to seeing old readers, meeting new readers, catching up with author friends, and making some new ones!

So that’s what’s going on with me. Next week, I’ll be back to my regular blogging content. See you then!

The Truth About Dog People

I’m back! Sorry the hiatus has been so long, but I had to have my head down drafting the third book in the FBI K-9s series. The great news there is that the first draft of the book is complete, but I’ll get into that more next week when I catch everyone up as to where I am now and outline my schedule for the fall.

Today though, I have a really fun infographic to share. The nice folks at Rover.com contacted me and asked if I’d like to share this infographic with my readers. And because so many of you are dog owners and lovers, I thought it might be a fun post as I’m ramping back into my regular blogging routine. There are some points that definitely ring true for me. How about you?

New Body Farm To Study Cold Weather Decomposition

Since the early 1980s, forensic anthropology research centers have been crucial to our knowledge surrounding human death and decomposition and their contributions to the scientific field have allowed for decades of successful criminal investigations.

Leading the field is the original facility, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s Forensic Anthropology Research Center, better known by its original name, The Body Farm, a catch-all term that now applies to all similar research centers. Years ago, Skeleton Keys blogged about both the Body Farm and Dr. William Bass, the man who started the farm in 1980 with its first research subject arriving in May of 1981. Both law enforcement and the scientific community owe Dr. Bass a debt of gratitude for his efforts to dramatically expand an area of science that was just in its infancy.

Since the original body farm, a number of other American facilities have opened: the Forensic Osteology Research Center (FOREST) at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina; Texas State University-San Marcos’s Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State (FACTS); the Center for Biological Field Studies at Sam Houston State University, near Houston; the Complex for Forensic Anthropology Research (CFAR) at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois; and the Forensic Investigation Research Station (FIRS) at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado.

A quick scan of the existing body farms reveals a significant issue: they are overwhelmingly situated in the southern United States. Since environment and climate play a crucial role in human decomposition, this has a major impact on results and leaves a large gap in our knowledge base.

Enter the newest facility to open at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan. Recently, Michigan’s governor has granted the university 2.5 acres of land adjacent to the Marquette Branch Prison to open a facility that will focus on the yet-to-be-explored issues of freezing, thawing, and weathering of victims in northern climes. As important as human decomposition research is, it’s often difficult to find sites in a community to house what can often be an aromatic outdoor laboratory, and people are often uncomfortable knowing that research on human remains is going on nearby. What they may not realize is that many people donate their own bodies following death to these facilities specifically, knowing that they would be contributing to important research, and that all human remains are treated with respect and dignity.

Living in Canada myself, I see this research as being incredibly important and that it will only strengthen the legal and law enforcement community’s drive to find justice for victims of lethal crimes when they can’t speak for themselves. We wish them luck in their new venture.

Photo credit: Northern Michigan University


Blogging over the next little while is going to be somewhat sporadic for us. We’ll be back whenever we have news about our upcoming release BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE, but we need to buckle down and concentrate on writing its sequel, the third book in the FBI K-9s series. As a result, the blog will be a little quiet for the next 4 or 6 weeks, but we’ll be back full time as soon as the first draft is complete. See you soon!

The Legacy of Mississippi Asylum Life… and Death

In 2013, while constructing a road on campus at the University of Mississippi in Jackson, workers uncovered sixty-six previously uncharted coffins. Work stopped to allow their removal to the university’s archeology center and the administration considered the matter closed. Then in 2014, during construction of a parking garage, approximately two thousand additional coffins were identified using ground penetrating radar; and the university realized it had a much larger issue on its hands. Now, three years later, the university administration believes it has finally discovered the scope of the bodies buried on campus after a larger radar investigation identified more than 7,000 coffins buried in twenty acres of land. Where did the bodies come from and how will the university deal with so many dead?

The source of the bodies is clearly based in the history of the area—the site was the location for the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum, later called the Insane Hospital, which opened in 1855 and functioned until its closure in 1935. That hospital was later torn down to allow for the building of the current University of Mississippi Medical Center. People suffering from mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia were sent to live at the asylum where they could be treated as medical knowledge of the time dictated. Thousands died while still in the care of the state, and if their bodies were not claimed by family, they were buried in unmarked graves to the east of the asylum. The hospital kept records, and while some still remain, many are lost to history. While hand-drawn maps from the nineteenth century suggested the possible location of the cemetery, they did not indicate the scale—so the sheer size of the cemetery was a surprise to the university administration.

While the university is thrilled with the archeological and forensic treasure trove, practicalities must be considered. The cost of excavating over 7,000 coffins and reburying the remains is immense—an initial estimate placed it around $21,000,000 (approximately $3,000 per body). But the university plans to do the excavations in-house with their own Department of Anthropology, bringing the cost down to just over $3,000,000 over eight years. They intend to open a memorial and a new visitor center to highlight the history of the asylum, institutionalization, and healthcare in the pre-modern period. There are also plans to open a lab to study the remains.

Researchers hope to shed light on the institution itself and their methods of treating mental illness. Previous to the asylum, those suffering from mental illness were often jailed or kept prisoner in attics. Life in the asylum was likely not much easier, and the institution’s nineteenth century death rate averaged over twenty percent each year. Despite this, its population soared by 1900%—from approximately 300 patients in the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century when it housed 6000 patients at its zenith. When the hospital closed, the patients were relocated to the state hospital in Whitfield, which is still open today.

There is a lot of personal interest within this discovery as well. Mental illness was so stigmatized in the past that suffering relatives simply ‘disappeared’ when they were shipped off to facilities such as the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum. Within the local community there is a movement for possible descendants to donate DNA for comparison to the DNA of the remains in hopes of finding some of their own past.

Photo credit: University of Mississippi Medical Center